"A beach house doesn't have to be on the beach, though the best ones are.
We like to congregate at boundary conditions - where air meets water, where earth meets air,
where body meets mind, where space meets time.

"We like to sit on one side and look at the other."

Douglas Adams, Mostly Harmless


- - -


My aunt Betty has a house on the beach in Long Island. The south shore of the North Fork or the north side of the South Fork. Peconic, I think. The house is huge and steps from the beach. There's a big, modern kitchen, and dining and breakfast tables, and a fireplace, and small, cozy wood-paneled bedrooms up a rickety wooden staircase. There's a deck outside sliding French doors, and windows with screens with insect holes in them, and creaky floorboards, and sun rooms and guest rooms and room for a garden (although the wide avenue that leads to the house is littered with fresh vegetable stands in the summer and booths set up by local wineries and vineyards). There are no chain stores in town at all...unless you count the 24-hour Dunkin' Donuts just down the road.

Outside the house is a grill, and some trees for sitting under, and bushes for hiding in, and an honest-to-god hand-made tree house, painted green, with a rope ladder and a pulley for getting grapes on paper towels in baskets on lazy summer reading days.

There's wicker everywhere.

And the beach. Right there, close enough to hear at night, grinding the sand down even finer than it already is. It's a rocky beach, and private, not private as in legally (though it is, technically, not that anyone cares enough to put up ropes to delineate private property as out-of-bounds. Well. Except that one crotchety old lady down the way) but private as in slightly overgrown at the edges and turned slightly from their neighbors' windows.

It's paradise. Edenic. Miles from anywhere and surrounded on three sides by water. The summer storms are breathtaking.


 


I haven't been there in three years, maybe four. My cousin Jude got married to his wife in a beautifully succinct and simple ceremony in a vineyard just up the road from the beach house. There were no chairs for the reception; we stood along with them. There was an open bar. I got carded. I was 22 and (I thought) looked it. How the hell do you card a dude in a suit?

I stood out on the deck with the groom's brother's wife's father, a Italian, just-shy-of-being-a-stereotype, millionaire owner of a limo company, proving to him (without talking about it at all) that guys who hold pansy-ass jobs like working for the New York Public Library could still drink beer and smoke cigarettes and talk about the game with the best of 'em, and that his little grandson wasn't necessarily all that strange or, you know, gay, for wanting to drop out of the baseball league and take art classes instead.

It was where I learned that, "So...are we related?" is a bad line to use to pick up women at weddings.


- - -


We went back to the beach house after the party, only two sheets to the wind (at the moment) and lookin' for trouble.

There were a lot of us so we took over the neighbor's house, armed to the teeth with cigarettes and cheap domestic beer and acerbic observations on daily life. My yuppies-ass cousin and his girlfriend, (other cousin, not newly married one) brought their own Heineken.

We drank a lot, and smoked a lot, and my cousin said something stupid, did his pontificating Pacino impression, Young Republican stamped all over him in his every mannerism (He was raised in New Caanan, Connecticut, if that means anything to you; it's where Letterman lives) and managed to talk for five minutes without saying a damn thing at all, his beer bottle clutched in his hand like a microphone stand.

Oh. Did I mention that he's a pilot? Completes the image, don't it?

So he said something dumb, and my father and I pounced on him as one, pushing him into a corner with logic so twisted and calculated and mercilessly, scathingly right, that he and I never talked the same way to each other again. It was established that we were on our own side, he and I, and that the language we at one time exchanged over the pitted marble dining room table, splitting our second six-pack and arguing about, I don't know, impressionism versus fauvism or Elvis Costello's collaboration with the Brodsky String Quartet or, hell, That Time I did That Thing with That Guy that he never told me he was proud of me for, you know, shit your parents only do when they're plastered, was better directed at other, preferably living, targets.

It was a fun night.

Towards the end of it, after we had migrated back to our own house on the beach, my stomach protested to me about the things I should be putting in it so I offered to cook for everybody who was still awake.

"Cook? It's 2am."

"...Yeah? So? You're hungry, right?"

"*grumble."

My father and I ended up splitting a huge homemade omelet, onions and ham and sour cream and a sprinkling of lime over its top, and fresh, black coffee. Decadent as all hell at three in the morning, apparently. Not decadent by my standards, but they were shocked.

I learned later that Betty, who I had asked if I could cook and who looked a tad shocked at the request, had apparently been bossing people around her kitchen, in some cases verbally forcing them out of the room. I tend to assume that any family home I'm in at any given moment is my home, and my request to cook was less along the lines of, "please?" and more along the lines of "Where do you keep the spatulas?"

I apparently had confused her by not playing by her rules, rules I didn't know (or care) existed.


- - -


Even with the arguments and the fights and the dubious deli salami my (yet other) cousin brought, and the beer I had been drinking which I was disgusted to find out, halfway through my second one, was lite beer, and the futile attempt to stay warm in the sun on the deck as it set over the side of the house and cast everything in shadow, it's my favorite place in the world. All it needs is a tire swing, but you know what? You go to the dump and I'll go to the hardware store and I'll hold the thing in the air while you scale the tree, tying knots like a pro, and we'll make up a song about it and sing it in front of the fireplace over a bottle of red before I carry you up the squeaking stairs to bed.

That, right there? See that? That's what love is.

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